Travel Destinations

Monday, September 12, 2016

5 Iconic Chicago Foods You Must Try

Chicago-Style Hot Dog Famous Chicago Foods

Chicago is a food city.  Chicago has famous chefs.  Chicago has famous restaurants.  Chicago has famous foods.  Wondering what food Chicago is known for?  During our girls’ weekend in Chicago, we made sure to try some of Chicago’s most famous dishes.  Here are five iconic Chicago foods you must try on a trip to Chicago.

Deep Dish Pizza

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Famous Chicago Foods

Chicago’s most famous and iconic food has to be Chicago-style deep dish pizza.  Chicago-style deep dish pizza is believed to have been invented at Pizzeria Uno in 1943.  There is sure to be disagreement and lively discussion when trying to settle on the best deep dish pizza in Chicago. 

On our walking food tour, we visited one of the restaurants touted to serve the best deep dish pizza, Giordano’s.  Giordano’s story is that their stuffed pizza started over 200 years ago in a northern Italian town as “Italian Easter Pie.”  It’s fitting because deep dish pizza is kind of like a casserole.  Giordano’s deep dish pizza is special because it has a double crust.  The crust is crunchy and flaky, almost biscuit-like.  The pizza is stuffed with cheese and your choice of ingredients like pepperoni, spinach, mushrooms, sausage, green peppers, and onions.  There is a very thin layer of crust on top, and then that is slathered with pizza sauce.

I really enjoyed my slice of Chicago-style deep dish pizza and am glad I got to try this Chicago signature food.  However, I am also glad we did this on a food tour.  Otherwise, we could have been waiting for a couple hours, and I really didn’t need more than once slice, as I am a thin crust Italian pizza kind of girl.  On the Chicago Favorites Food Tour with Bobby’s Bike Hike Chicago that I found and booked on Vimbly (a great website for discovering and booking tours of all kinds), we showed up, we were seated, a pizza was delivered, we ate our slice, and then we were back outside and on our way to the next stop.

Chicago-Style Hot Dog

Chicago-Style Hot Dogs Famous Chicago Foods

Another Chicago must eat is the famous Chicago-style hot dog.  I like hot dogs, especially a good and completely unhealthy chili cheese dog on occasion, but I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a hot dog lover.  However, I made sure to have a Chicago-style hot dog during our Chicago weekend getaway.  After all, it is yet another Chicago food staple. 

For my Chicago-style hot dog experience, I chose Kim and Carlo’s Chicago Style Hot Dogs cart, which can be found at the Museum Campus near The Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium.  A Chicago-style hot dog is an all-beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun topped with mustard, relish, onion, tomato, sport pepper, celery salt, and a pickle spear.  That’s a whole lot of toppings for one little wiener, but they make for a crazy delicious bite.  It’s all about the sport pepper, something I hadn’t heard of before visiting Chicago.  Just one thing, don’t ask for ketchup!  The sign at Kim and Carlo’s threatens to make customers dance for ketchup.  As a famous Chicagoan, President Obama, has made clear, including recently to Anthony Bourdain, you should never, ever put ketchup on a hot dog. 

Italian Beef

Chicago Italian Beef Famous Chicago Foods

An Italian beef was not something I was familiar with before my Chicago trip.  But in Chicago, it is a classic and a staple.  In fact, on a boat tour we took later in the trip, the guide mentioned how he went on vacation to another state and couldn’t believe he couldn’t just go somewhere and order an Italian beef.  On our same food tour where we went to Giordano’s for deep dish pizza, we also visited Al’s Beef, which has been making Italian beefs for Chicagoans since 1938.

An Italian beef is kind of like a French dip.  An Italian beef starts with tender, oven-roasted, Italian seasoned beef sliced paper-thin which is then dumped into the juicy gravy to soak up even more flavor, all served in a fresh Italian roll.  You can order your Italian beef dry (no extra gravy), regular (just a little gravy), wet (lots of gravy), or dipped (throw the whole sandwich in the gravy and let it all soak in).  There are also extras that can be added to the Italian beef: provolone cheese, homemade spicy giardiniera, or homemade sweet peppers.

An Italian beef, especially a wet one, is best eaten standing up at the counter.  There are even directions for eating an Italian beef properly, called the Italian stance: (1) elbows on the counter; (2) step back one foot, feet spread 18 inches; (3) lean into counter; (4) dig your face into it.  Follow these four simple steps “and you don’t get nuttin’ on your shoes.”

Original Rainbow Cone

Original Rainbow Cone Famous Chicago Foods

I love ice cream.  Ice cream is probably my favorite sweet.  When I was planning my trip to Chicago, I was scrolling through Instagram pictures and stumbled upon a glorious sight, a rainbow cone.  The Original Rainbow Cone first opened in Southside Chicago in 1926.  Recently they opened a new location on the Navy Pier, which means travelers can combine a visit to a popular tourist attraction with tasting an iconic Chicago food. 

The rainbow cone is a layered ice cream cone with chocolate ice cream, strawberry ice cream, Palmer House (New York vanilla with cherries and walnuts) ice cream, pistachio ice cream, and orange sherbet.  The rainbow cone was everything I imagined it would be, absolutely delectable.

Palmer House Brownie

Did you know brownies were invented in Chicago?  Bertha Palmer of the Palmer House was responsible for the invention of the brownie in 1893.  Bertha Palmer directed the Palmer House Hotel chef to create a dessert to be served at the Columbian Exposition World Fair that was easy to eat, small, and dense so it wouldn’t fall apart.  The world famous Palmer House still serves brownies today made with the exact same recipe and they even provide the original recipe so guests can try it at home.

Palmer House Brownie Recipe

14 oz. semi-sweet chocolate | 1 lb. butter | 12 oz. granulated sugar
4 oz. flour | 8 eggs | 12 oz. crushed walnuts | vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. 
Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler. 
Mix sugar and flour in bowl.  Add melted chocolate and butter.  Stir four to five minutes. 
Add eggs.  Continue mixing. 
Pour into 9x12 baking sheet.  Sprinkle walnuts on top and press down slightly.  Bake 30-40 minutes.
Brownies are done when edges are crisp and brownies have risen ¼ inch.  Middle will be gooey.

Glaze Ingredients
1 cup water | 1 cup apricot preserves | 1 tsp. unflavored gelatin

Glaze Directions
Combine water, preserves, and gelatin in saucepan.  Mix and bring to boil for two minutes.
Brush hot glaze on brownies while warm.

My quest for eating some of Chicago’s most famous foods was successful and scrumptious.  Unless you’re a vegan (in which case, all I can say is I’m sorry), you absolutely must try these iconic Chicago foods when in the Windy City.

Thank you to Vimbly for hosting our Chicago food tour and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.  This article contains affiliate links.  If you book through them, it costs you nothing extra and we earn a small commission that goes towards running this website and bringing you more travel stories.

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Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.